A pro-democracy group has been ordered to close its stalls at a government-run Lunar New Year market in Hong Kong after they were deemed political and in breach of their lease.
The League of Social Democrats ran two booths at Victoria Park under new rules imposed this year by the city's administration, which banned politically themed products in an attempt to maintain public order amid the ongoing anti-government protests.
But on Sunday, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) carried out at least five inspections of the league's stalls, where material had been posted including a timeline display and political cartoons relating to the unrest sparked in June by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
Warning notices were pinned at the stalls suggesting the league had violated the lease terms at the market, which only allows the selling of flowers and food, while specifically banning dry goods.
The department ordered the removal of the material by Monday afternoon, "to protect the public interest".
Inspectors returned to the stall at about noon on Monday, saying the league had been given enough time to remove the banners and decorations, but had failed to comply.
The department then decided to terminate the lease agreement immediately.
"Please keep the stall intact and well maintained and return it to the department by 3pm," read a termination notice posted at the stand.
However, the league argued it did not have a chance to rebut the department's assertions, and asked officials to explain their decision publicly.
Avery Ng Man-yuen, chairman of the league, said the department's decision to close their booths was "ridiculous".
"Our displays are mainly to get people to understand the current protests' situation and police violence, and people are here to buy flowers because they support us," he said.
"We are a flower booth as well as an exhibition. There should not be any contradictions. I am ready to face any legal consequences."
Ng said the group's booths were not violating the lease terms as stated by the department, because they were selling flowers.
He argued the closure was against the freedom of speech, adding: "But we know the contract gives them ultimate power. Let's wait and let the world see."
Ng added he had been asking officials for an explanation, without success, since Monday morning, before receiving the termination letter.
Other political associations, such as the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and the Justice Defence Fund, also had stalls at the fair selling plants and flowers.
The 15 government-run fairs and festivals around Hong Kong will be open between January 19 and 25. This is the first time that dry goods stalls are not allowed at Lunar New Year fairs.
The FEHD said earlier the measure was needed for more effective crowd control.
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